Saturday, January 16, 2010

One Down, Fifty-one to Go

I seem to have be having a love affair with France.  I'm not quite sure where it started.  I grew up watching Julia Child's television show The French Chef, but there wouldn't have been any reason to make a connection between Julia and Paris or France.  It was about food and cooking, so perhaps what I really should be writing about is the love affair with food.  How people cannot love and appreciate truly good food, carefully prepared and made with quality ingredients, is completely beyond me.

My choice of reading has a lot to do with it.  There was A Pig in Provence and then The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, which actually took place in Paris.  Then there was Julie & Julia, which was a lovely reminder of the wonder of Julia Child.  I even read part of Julie Powells blog -- which led to the book and the movie -- and I should probably read the rest to see how the original turned out.  I have not yet managed to read Appetite for Life and My Life in France, but they are, of course, on my list.

I have acquired a few volumes by M.F.K. Fisher and Judith Jones, and have even begun to read Secret Ingredients, the anthology of food writing from the New Yorker.

The animated film Ratatouille fits in here somehow, although I am not exactly sure how, and the film adaptation of Julie & Julia, which is also based on My Life in France, is truly delightful.  I think that the film version of The Devil Wears Prada and the television series Highlander and The Raven have probably contributed to the Parisian infatuation as well.

I have even started off my reading new year with food and Paris.

I finally finished reading my first book of the year last Sunday, which is now dangerously close to a week ago, and I doubt that I am realistically close to finishing another in the next twenty-four hours or so to keep up the pace.

Not exactly a rip roaring start toward my annual goal of a book a week, but at least it's a start.

The book in question is The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious and Perplexing City by David Lebovitz.

The Sweet Life is part memoir, part travel guide, part cookbook, and I enjoyed all of it.

Fifty pages into it, and I fell in love with the city and the food all over again.

There is a deceptively simple recipe for chocolate cake which I have tried and failed at once, but I am prepared to try again.

Delicious recipes aside, I find the storage recommendations which Lebovitz includes at the end of his recipes to be the most thoughtful and helpful.

As one might have heard or expect, the French take food very seriously.  "In France, calling yourself a chef carries a lot of responsibility.  It's not just someone who tosses a piece of fish on the grill, drizzles it with olive oil, and tops it with a sprig of thyme.  That makes one a cook, not a chef.  A chef is someone who has the responsibility for composing menus, managing food costs, overseeing a staff, and most important, has usually risen through the ranks the hard way.  Many begin scrubbing pots and pans in the dishroom when they can barely reach the sink, and no job is too menial."  (pg. 245)

Lebovitz did not begin his career in food quite so early, but he has certainly paid his dues by working his way up and even overcoming a few of his fears.

If nothing else, I have discovered another reason to move to or at least spend some time in Paris -- if Lebovitz is to be believed, that is.  Given the historic expatriate community of Hemingway and company, I am inclined to believe him when he says, "In a nation of readers, writers are revered in France lik pro gootball players are in America.  And if you write about chocolate and ice cream [as he does] and make killer brownies, you're like the one who scored the winning field goal for the home team." (pg. 219)

Now all that remains for me to do is to write and publish something that the French care to read.

What I also think it might mean is that telling someone in France that writing is your occupation will be met with less skepticism and disdain than it often is in the United States, provided you can back up your claim, of course.  All the more reason to keep practicing.

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